The problem isn’t a lack of want to match himself against the best fighters on the planet. For unbeaten Shakur Stevenson, the issue has become more about his opposition’s unwillingness to do the same.
Stevenson (15-0, 8 KOs), the sensational 23-year-old native of Newark, New Jersey, returns Saturday for what best can be summed up as his third straight stay-busy fight over the last 12 months, largely against anyone willing to step up.
Yes, the former WBO featherweight titleholder and 2016 Olympic silver medalist will be competing for the WBO’s interim belt at his new weight of 130 pounds, which could put him in line for a shot at full WBO junior lightweight champion (and good friend) Jamel Herring with a win. But Stevenson is fighting anything but a household name when he headlines an ESPN card against unheralded Jeremiah Nakathila (21-1, 17 KOs) at Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas.
The 31-year-old Nakathila, aptly nicknamed “Low Key,” is so obscure of an opponent despite his surprisingly high ranking by the WBO that Stevenson couldn’t pronounce his last name during last week’s appearance on “Morning Kombat.” Nakathila has also never once fought professionally outside of his native Namibia.
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“At the end of the day, you’ve got to understand that I can’t force nobody to get in the ring with me,” Stevenson told CBS Sports. “I can’t sit there and put a gun to somebody’s head and say, ‘Fight me.’ If these fighters don’t want to fight, they don’t want to fight. At the end of the day, this is why I’m fighting Jeremiah Naka-whatever his name is. He is No. 2 in the WBO so it just made sense.”
If Stevenson has his way, Nakathila will be the last opponent he faces in anything resembling a showcase. He’s willing to fight Herring (23-2, 11 KOs) even though the two fighters have shared training camps together and roll in the same extended business and personal circles as Top Rank fighters affiliated with unbeaten WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford.
The fight Stevenson covets most, however, is one with WBC 130-pound champion Oscar Valdez (29-0, 23 KOs) who mentioned his name earlier this year following his breakthrough title win over longtime champion Miguel Berchelt.
“I think that me and Valdez should be the next big fight. I don’t see the point of waiting. I don’t understand, what are we waiting for? Is he trying to get me to get a belt first?” Stevenson said. “I don’t understand it. I was his mandatory at 126 and right after that, he moved up. A lot of people think Valdez is scared of me. I think he should prove that he’s a Mexican warrior because Mexican fighters are tough people.
“I think he should have to show his fanbase he [isn’t afraid]. Yes, he beat Miguel Berchelt but me and Miguel Berchelt are two different fighters. I respect Valdez’s win but I don’t respect his actions. Right when he got out of the ring, he said he wanted to make the fight happen. So if you say that, you should be a man of your word. Prove to people that you are going to stand up for what you are going to say.”
Considering both fighters compete on ESPN under the Top Rank promotional banner, it’s a fight that shouldn’t be difficult to make. Stevenson, in order to make sure there is no miscommunication, is willing to drive directly from the fight against Nakathila in Las Vegas this weekend and head straight to the Top Rank offices across the city to get a final answer for himself.
“I want to hear them say it right out of their mouth that Valdez don’t want to fight me,” Stevenson said. “Whatever it takes, I need that fight next.”
Stevenson currently sits firmly within a group of five young fighters all in and around the sport’s lightweight division who seem to have “next” from the standpoint of becoming breakthrough stars for the next era. Joining Gervonta Davis, Ryan Garcia, Teofimo Lopez Jr. and Devin Haney in this group, Stevenson said he’s willing to fight all of them, consecutively, but doubts given boxing’s political and network issues that it happens.
If the 1980s were dominated by the group known as “The Four Kings” — Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran — who fought each other a total of nine times over 10 years to become the face of the sport, Stevenson is worried this generation doesn’t have the same intentions.
“It’s all on the fighters; they need to be willing to fight each other,” Stevenson said. ” I’m putting it out there right now that I’m ready to fight any of those people. Whenever the time comes, I’m ready. I don’t see it happening, just me being honest. I just see them all like talk shit to each other and then act like they are all in negotiations [to fight each other] when they really aren’t.”
Until he can get one of them in the ring against him, Stevenson is much more focused on finding someone who can bring out the best in him.
“I don’t think I have been forced to show too much at all,” Stevenson said. “I feel like you all haven’t seen certain parts of my game that is in there already. The world don’t know a lot of stuff. They say, ‘Oh, Shakur is a technical, skillful boxer and this or that.’ They don’t really know what I’ve really got in me. At the end of the day, I don’t think I have been forced to show too much. We don’t know, maybe it will come out on Saturday. We never know which fighter will bring it out.”
Fight card, odds
- Shakur Stevenson -3500 vs. Jeremiah Nakathila +1400, WBO interim junior lightweight title
- Julian Rodriguez -240 vs. Jose Pedraza +200, junior welterweights
- Date: June 12 | Location: Virgin Hotels — Las Vegas
- Start time: 10 p.m. ET | How to watch: ESPN | Stream: fuboTV (try for free)
Nakathila is such an obscure fighter that it’s difficult to find anything close to an accurate assessment of his height or reach online. Tape of the fighter, however, shows him to be aggressive and lanky but not anywhere close to the technical level of Stevenson.
The main issue for Nakathila will be how much he telegraphs his lead right hand and tends to favor it consecutively as his main punch from the orthodox stance. He doesn’t traditionally work off of the jab and will need everything to go right in order for his pressure style to have an affect on his opponent while stepping up in class this high.
Expect Stevenson to have his way by picking Nakathila apart with speedy combinations while looking to make a statement as to where he stands in the future of both the division and the sport.
Pick: Stevenson via TKO7